Rolling Bones: Behind the Screen Advice – Map Making for your new town

Creating your first town Part 3: The Map

Welcome back readers, and I hope you had a pleasant and joyous holiday season.  So let me address the 800 lb gorilla in the room.  You might notice the name of this article series has changed.  This is due to me doing some RPG browsing and finding products by Nord games known as the Gamemaster Toolbox series.  We are a fairly small niche community, and it is not my desire to cause confusion or in any fashion step on the toes of those producing quality products for gaming.  So in order to avoid any possible entanglements, I am changing the article series name to Rolling Bones: Behind the Screen Advice.  I often use the catch phrase Keep rolling them bones, so it fits.  Okay now that I have gotten that out of the way lets discuss making your map!

I want to make a map but I stink at making artwork

Never fear fair readers, I also stink at making art.  To be clear, I REALLY STINK at making art.  My stick figures look like they got hit by a train and pieced back together, and my circles often times come across like an orange someone sat on.  Everyone has different talents, and sometimes art or drawing in specific is just not in your wheel house.  Thankfully there is a multitude of different ways you can make a decent map! I will start with the most basic form and work up from there.  The methods I will discuss are as follows:

  1. Blank piece of paper, pencil, eraser and a willingness to be okay with something not looking perfect
  2. Basic Paint program such as Microsoft Paint
  3. Online random town generator
  4. City Designer 3 (falls under the campaign cartographer 3 umbrella of products)

I will give a few different statistics to help you decide which method looks the best, provides the quickest turn around time and is the least labor intensive.  With that in mind, let’s check out what I came up with.

As mentioned before this is a very small village, with only 6 major buildings and the rest being small hovels and cottages within or outside the town itself.  There are only 900 people within Bastion and speaking as a person who grew up in a rural village about the size of this one, you would be surprised how many people fit in one little cottage.

The tried and true hand drawn method

My unsteady hand and a ruler somewhat hard at work

In order to make my masterpiece of hand-drawn art, I used a trust #2 pencil, a ruler and a blank piece of printer paper.  It took me about 25 minutes to draw roughly and while it was fun to just scribble something down, it presents only a vague idea as to the town lay out.  However, by doing this rough drawing first it did allow for me to have an idea how I wanted the village to flow.  It certainly does not look like Benoist Poire put it together, but it gives us an idea of building flow and road placement that we can use later on in other map creation methods.

The Advantages of this style:

  1. It’s cheap, you probably have everything you need on hand or can for about $3.00 worth of investment or less
  2. It is only limited by your creative talent
  3. it can be as robust or simple as you would like

The Disadvantages of this style:

  1. If you are handicapped like me, this may not be in your skillset
  2. Depending on ability or penmanship it might be hard to read
  3. It takes a lot of patience to do a really nice map

Using Paint to up your map quality

MS Paint produces a slightly better turn out, too bad I apparently did not spell check it!

Making the map in Paint was fairly simple.  Simply use the rectangle tool to make different shapes, allowing for nice clean lines.  You can also cut and paste repetitive structures such as trees and the peasant’s homes over and over, which is a much faster route than drawing each one.  Since any PC or even Mac comes with some kind of paint program the only cost associated with this method is owning a computer itself.

The Advantages of this style:

  1. The only cost is owning a computer
  2. It took me around 14 minutes to make the paint version of my map
  3. You can have a nice color map

The Disadvantages of this style:

  1. You are limited to your ability with the mouse and knowledge of the tools in paint
  2. The color palette has to be played with if you want truly realistic tones.
  3. I am not saying it is not possible to make some impressive maps but it takes a better eye than mine to see how.

Online map generators

This map was created at

The internet certainly gives fledgling game masters many tools these days.  I played around with several of them and while they provide some impressive looking maps, the use is truly up to you.  The map above was done on Dave’s Mapper.  The site allows you to make a map using random tiles which you can change to your liking.  It is really pretty intuitive and makes for great classic looking map.  Of course, this map in no way resembles my previous efforts and as a control driven GM that bugs me a little.  However, I see great possibilities for future use when I cover making your own dungeons.

Another website that generates maps is from the Watabou website.  Much like Dave’s it provides you with a random drawing.  Like Dave’s you do get some options to try to get the map you want, so a bit of tinkering is needed.

map made at

The Advantages of this style:

  1. I think grand total I spent 10 minutes playing with tiles, pretty quick
  2. It cost me nothing on either site to play with it
  3. You can get an almost professional level map with little effort

The Disadvantages of this style:

  1. Very little control of the look of the map
  2. You almost have to tailor your city stats and details to the map rather than vice versa
  3.  If you like a map you create you need to make sure you save it or download it as it will vanish if you do not

Campaign Cartographer 3

Map created with CC3+ ©Christopher Bishop 2018

Campaign Cartographer has been around since 1993.  It is one of the most well-known map making programs in the roleplaying industry.  That being said, it has an extremely high learning curve and can be very daunting.  It also has a fairly high price tag, but the results can not be argued with.  You really do get what you pay for in this regard.  Luckily there are several tutorials offered by both Profantasy and other users that can get you up and running in no time.  Campaign Cartographer offers a full suite of software that will allow you to make dungeons, cities and gorgeous overland maps.

I am definitely not that great with the program yet. (as evidenced by the big blotch of green in the bottom left corner, I was trying to make a grove) But I would argue the map CC3+ made was better than the other two I produced by a long shot.

The Advantages of this style:

  1. The industry standard in  map making is very verbose with tons of options
  2. There is a wealth of support for the product, making learning it fairly easy
  3. You can generate gorgeous maps that you can use in your games or even your own products if you are so inclined.

The Disadvantages of this style:

  1. The learning curve is high with this program.  It has a CAD backbone which makes it one serious piece of software.
  2. The price runs 39.95 for the core program with add-ons running the same price.
  3. It does take some time to make a map.  I spent 1 hour roughly making my map above.

In summary

There are many options for making maps available.  I have only touched upon the surface at this point.  The real thing you need to realize is, have no fear when it comes to making your first town map.  It does not need to be a work of art.  The only job your first map needs to do is to convey your image of the town.  Most of D&D traditionally has been played out in the Theater of the Mind.  You are spinning a story in a land that does not exist, with characters that do not exist, and powers that are not real.  Your town map simply needs to be visual guide.  Your words will shape the rest for your players.

So grab that pencil, use that mouse and have no fear you are going to do awesome!  The next article we will continue with our town by discussing floor plans for some of your buildings and the pros and cons of creating too much or too little.  Thanks for reading!

Until Next Time,

Keep rolling them bones,


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